New Family Trees from Findmypast and Living DNA

Product launches and bold claims of innovation are features of RootsTech and 2018 was no exception.   This year, two announcements were a new global family tree from Findmypast and Family Networks from Living DNA.  Frustratingly, both are in early development, so there isn’t yet any new functionality available for users to explore.

Findmypast pop up for global tree

Findmypast three-part family tree strategy includes partnership with FamilySearch

In the RootsTech General Session of Friday, 28 February 2018, Tamsin Todd, CEO of Findmypast said:

We decided that a successful Findmypast family tree experience would combine both the wisdom of the crowd as well as the contributions of experts, whose published reference trees provide credible signposts for newer members of the community.  These reference trees will usually be provided by genealogists with competent research skills. We will be seeking feedback from the genealogical community, and will share our thinking as we go, on how the shared tree maintained by the community and the reference trees, built by experts, can interact and support each other.

Ben Bennett, executive vice president of Findmypast, explained that the benefits of a shared tree could be watered down if we have too many shared trees, and advocated contributing to an established community instead of duplicating what already exists.  Tamsin then made the announcement:

FamilySearch has agreed to partner with Findmypast, as they have done with others to provide thier family tree, to underpin Findmypast’s new tree offering. We are confident that this approach of adding to already thriving family tree and encouraging evidence based assertions is the right one to help our users make more discoveries about their British and Irish ancestry.  Our new suite of family tree products including our shared tree, reference trees and updates to our private trees is still in development. So this isn’t a product launch. It’s an early preview for the RootsTech community.  We wanted to give each of you an opportunity to provide feedback and be part of its creation.  You can preview some of our work at

So that’s 3 types of tree: private individual trees, a shared global tree and published reference trees.  Findmypast has had private individual trees for several years and all other the big companies have tried out the global tree idea.

Verified reference trees are the new thing here, but nothing was said to indicate how this might be implemented.  On that topic, Dear Tamsin, we need to talk.  UK educated genealogists , based in the UK, are best placed to support Findmypast’s strength in British and Irish records.

Family Trees are a tool.  Interaction between different types of tool are essential if the user is to get the most from their research.  Could the Findmypast strategy be part of the prediction made by Judy Russell, aka The Legal Genealogist? In the Innovation Showcase she shared her thought that:

the most exciting possibility for the future is to blend the DNA research records and the documentary records into a curated, documented, DNA verified, single family tree

That will require both traditional genealogy tools in combination with DNA tools.

Living DNA says: Family Networks rebuilds your tree based on DNA

That is a bold claim from Living DNA, which seems to contradict the wisdom about using DNA for genealogy.  DNA tests reveal how closely you are related to others, rather than determine exact relationships.

DNA technology is developing quickly and in just the last few years many analysis tools have been created.  Living DNA’s press release of 26 February 2018 describes ‘Family Networks’ as a “new DNA-driven matching system and family tree reconstruction method” that “will predict how users are related to direct matches”.  My understanding of further information in the press release is that it calculates which genetic trees are possible and compares this to user’s genetic matches and known family trees.  Note that this is a statistical prediction, which may be a very helpful guide, but not a certain determination of exact relationships. This image from the press release gives you the idea of converting a set of DNA matches into a more familiar family tree.

Living DNA Family Networks illustration

Family Trees are visual representations which help us understand of relationships.  Exploration of underlying data from different sources is best served by tools that allow us to easily un-pick erroneous connections in combined trees.  Are you up for that challenge, Findmypast and Living DNA?

© Sue Adams 2018


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